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My 25th high school reunion took me back to Loreto House, Kolkata, in December 2016. I was a student there from Nursery through Grade 12. To my school, I owe a mountain of gratitude.
Here’s my speech:
“I was asked to give a speech about – unsurprisingly – my memories of Loreto House. When I sat in front of my computer, some images that flashed through my mind were predictable. Others surprised even myself.
So what do I remember most?
• Crisp white uniforms.
• Hail Mary and hymns.
• Some really boring classes.
• A few standout blow-your-mind teachers who inspired.
• Green peppermints and chhola bhaturas.
• Dull dance lessons.
• Needlework. (Remember, I didn’t say this was a list of good memories).
• Slow, whirring fans and stuffy classrooms.
.• The difference between a V and a W.
• Girls. Mean girls. Good girls.
• Friends. Best friends. Forever friends.
That’s a pretty obvious list.
Here’s the part that was not obvious to me while I was a student at Loreto House. That each and every item on this list taught me something.
Nuns, Hail Mary and hymns – allowed us to embrace different religions. I’m a Hindu and I grew up saying Amen every morning. I didn’t even know what religion meant till I was much older. I didn’t care. None of us did. We thrived on a beautiful blend of multiple faiths – our personal beliefs and the ones we learned and practiced at school. Both sets complemented each other harmoniously. We didn’t know it back then, but we were shining examples of young, secular Indians, the kind of students – now adults – that I hope, make India proud.
The boring lessons. Yes. The sad truth is, there were many. What that did do, was make the good ones stand out. We remember the teachers who taught because they wanted to. These were the ones who were passionate about educating, informing, challenging and preparing the next generation of Indians to contribute to society. These are the women who made us fall in love with learning. The ones whose classes we would look forward to. The teachers we wanted to run into in the hallway – because they knew that an education never began or ended inside a classroom. They taught us learning was a never ending journey, that we must continue to seek knowledge throughout our lives. Because believing we know it all is a dangerous thing.
At this point, I’d like to remember two teachers who this, our class of 1991 remembers with deep affection and respect. Our KG teacher, Mrs Wilde and Class 3 teacher, Mrs Mazumdar. They’re no longer with us but clearly had an impact on all the young women who’ve come back to this school today. The inspirational teachers? You cant beat these two. They were gems.
Shakespeare. Gave us an appreciation of literature and language. Made us readers. Made us curious. Made us fall in love with books. Gave us the ability to rattle off a few lines of Macbeth every now and then so we, you know, sound high brow.
V’s and W’s. Kids from other parts of India just cant say weather vane! They get their V’s and W’s mixed up and they don’t even understand why that’s a big deal. What’s up with that? Get these two wrong and any Loreto girl will roll her eyes. We’re language snobs. And I’m fine with that.
The dancing? Didn’t enjoy it back then, but it taught us grace.
The marching? The most useless skill to waste so many hours on, that too, after school, in 40 degree heat. Have we ever used it in our adult lives? Nope. But I guess it taught us co-ordination. I guess.
Needlework? Needlework. It taught me to send clothes to the tailor for alteration. Please tell me it’s been taken off the curriculum now?
Girls. Mean girls. Good girls. Snarky ones. Loyal ones. Of course, you’re going to have the whole range in an all-girls school. And once you navigate that milieu and find your own space in a class of hormonal, emotional, ambitious 16-17 year olds, you’ll do just fine as a woman making her journey in the real world.
A woman who can always lean on one other woman – a Loreto girl. Because, through all our years together packed in small classrooms, we got to know each other well. Through thick and thin, ups and downs, successes and failures, we formed a sisterhood. And now, with all these years between us – and a little help from Facebook – I am delighted the sisterhood is thriving. Hashtag – friends like family.
Today we are lawyers, writers, designers, professors, doctors, chefs, journalists, CEO’s, mothers, home-makers, bankers etc. We, young girls from Calcutta – the ones who can’t call it Kolkata – now dot the globe. We chose to pursue different dreams – in some cases, we reached further than we had stretched for. In some instances, destiny interfered with our plans. We are, and will forever be bound by our common history.
Of all the things that characterised our Loreto childhood, one important thing stands out – the lack of boys. Yes, they were such a novelty in those days. But guess what that did? It made us believe girls could do anything. Shatter any ceiling. Pursue any dream. Win any race. Conquer mountains. We never thought about whether we could be better than the boys because there were no boys to worry about.
We didn’t believed we girls could hold up half the sky. We grew up knowing we could – and would – hold up ALL of it.
To all my friends sitting here today, I am honoured to be your classmate. To all the teachers, I am humbled to remain your student.”
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